book review

All the Small Town Vibes | Rural Voices edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Friday, October 09, 2020

 Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Candlewick Press
Publication Date: 10/13/20
Pages: 336
Source: publisher in exchange for honest review (Thanks, Candlewick Press!)

Think you know what rural America is like? Discover a plurality of perspectives in this enlightening anthology of stories that turns preconceptions on their head. Gracie sees a chance of fitting in at her South Carolina private school, until a "white trash"-themed Halloween party has her steering clear of the rich kids. Samuel's Tejano family has both stood up to oppression and been a source of it, but now he's ready to own his true sexual identity. A Puerto Rican teen in Utah discovers that being a rodeo queen means embracing her heritage, not shedding it. . . . For most of America's history, rural people and culture have been casually mocked, stereotyped, and, in general, deeply misunderstood. Now an array of short stories, poetry, graphic short stories, and personal essays, along with anecdotes from the authors' real lives, dives deep into the complexity and diversity of rural America and the people who call it home. Fifteen extraordinary authors - diverse in ethnic background, sexual orientation, geographic location, and socioeconomic status - explore the challenges, beauty, and nuances of growing up in rural America. From a mountain town in New Mexico to the gorges of New York to the arctic tundra of Alaska, you'll find yourself visiting parts of this country you might not know existed - and meet characters whose lives might be surprisingly similar to your own.
Rural Voices is an anthology of #ownvoices that live in rural areas across America, hoping to tackle the stereotypes of the small town experience. While I've read many books of characters who live in small towns, most do not discuss the many judgments that follow in their wake (that all people in small towns have bad teeth or are all a little backward, for example). Not only am I from a small, rural area but I've also been at the end of those assumptions that people have of small town residents. 

When I first discovered this book, I immediately wanted to read it. Finally, an entire book that features rural voices and the rural experience. I hoped to find myself and my experience (pic below is of my family's farm) in some of the characters. Not only did I find the book so relatable as some stories tackled some challenges I myself have been through, but it also seeks to teach readers that these assumptions and generalizations are inappropriate and wrong. 

I’ve never heard or read from most of the authors but that's what makes anthologies so great; you get to discover new authors. 

Without giving too much away, I’ve provided a sentence-synopsis of what each short story entails, as well as my individual rating for each:

The (Unhealthy) Breakfast Club by Monica M. Roe (3 stars): A group of scholarship students share their experiences over breakfast. 

The Hole of Dark Kill Hollow by Rob Costello (4 stars): Two characters face a mysterious pit in the woods that is said to give them what they most desire, at a price. 

A Border Kid Comes of Age by David Bowles (4 stars): A lovely, significant and timely coming of age and coming out story in verse.

Fish and Fences by Veeda Bybee (4 stars): A family tackles racist assumptions in a small town.

Close Enough by Nora Shalaway Carpenter (4 stars): A high school senior learns to accept the place she’s from and all the challenges that come with that.

Whiskey and Champagne by S.A. Cosby (3.5 stars): A too-short but interesting discussion on how one accusation can easily wreck someone’s life. 

What Home Is by Ashley Hope Perez (3 stars): A heart-aching poem about the meaning of home.

Island Rodeo Queen by Yamile Saied Mendez (4.5 stars): A lovely story of a young girl who dreams of one day becoming a rodeo queen.

Grandpa by Randy DuBurke (5 stars): A graphic novel graces the anthology about a boy who visits his grandmother for the first time in several years and discovers something he had lost.

Best in Show by Tirzah Price (4 stars): A great story of a young pig trainer who has been crushing on one of the girls in her class. 

Praise the Lord and Pass the Little Debbies by David Macinnis Gill (3 stars): A snippet of a boy’s life who goes to church every Sunday.

The Cabin by Nasugraq Rainey Hopson (5 stars): A young trapper recounts her strange experience in the Alaskan wilderness.

Black Nail Polish by Shae Carys (3 stars): A story about what it means to be a good friend.

Secret Menu by Veeda Bybee (2 stars): A short comic of restaurant goers choosing food from the secret menu.

Pull Up a Seat Around the Stove by Joseph Bruchac (3 stars): An autobiography of Bruchac’s rural experience. 

Home Waits by Estelle Laure (3.5 stars): A student decides to change the path she’s on after being visited by three ghosts.

Overall, this anthology was filled with a diverse cast of #ownvoices narratives that represent the rural experience. Not only does it capture the hardships and challenges that come with living in a rural area, it speaks to its beauty and optimism as well. It also has an underlying message that every experience, no matter if you live in a rural area or not, is different as everyone is unique and special in their own way. Rural Voices was a magical anthology that really brings the rural experience to life and tackles the many assumptions people harbor about small towns. 

Top Ten Tuesday

10 Book Covers that Give Me All the Fall Vibes

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

It's finally fall! I've been getting into the autumn spirit by sipping the pumpkin cream cold brew at Starbucks, reading all the spooky books, and watching the leaves fall outside. It's such a lovely time of the year! I've decided to share some books that are on my to-read list that definitely give me all the fall vibes. 

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week's topic is: 10 Book Covers with Fall Colors/Vibes:

Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare | Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson | Beheld by Alex Flinn

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater | Linked by Imgoen Howson | Bright Raven Skies by Kristina Perez

Everless by Sara Holland | Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco | The Antidote by Shelley Sacklier

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

What book covers give you all the fall vibes?

Tackling my TBR

Tackling My TBR: September 2020

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

 Tackling My TBR is a monthly post, where I share my reading plans for the upcoming month.

I’ve taken a little break with my TBR jar since my classes have started up again. I noticed that the busier I get with classes, the least likely I am to read books that I’ve picked out of the jar. I seem to prefer mood reading when I’m taking classes. However, I still wanted to share a TBR with you because there’s some great books I’m excited to read this month.

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith: This sort of plot where the protagonist wins the lottery is something I’ve seen before. In fact, Lucky in Love by Kasie West had a similar plot and I just got so annoyed at the whole thing. I’ve heard that, in comparison, this one is better than Lucky in Love so I’m excited to try it out.

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell: I’ve had this on my tbr pile for a while. The size is a bit daunting, but with magic and time travel, I know I’ll probably love it.

The Muse by Jessie Burton: I’m about halfway through this one already. After finishing The Miniaturist, I knew I wanted to read more from Burton. She has a new release coming out early next year. However, in the meantime, I’d thought I’d give this one a go. It follows a young girl, working as a typist for an art dealer, who uncovers a mysterious piece of artwork that’s been lost for years.

Black Heart by Justin Somper: This is the fourth in the Vampirates book series and I can’t wait to continue. I haven’t read the series in over ten years so a reread of the first three is definitely overdue. However, there’s a very real chance that I’ll probably just jump right into the fourth. This series follows shipwrecked twins who stumble upon a pirate ship filled with vampires. 


Buzzwordathon is a readathon hosted by booktubers: Kayla from BooksandLala and Paola from Paola Guerrero. Here’s the announcement for the readathon. This readathon takes place between September 21st to the 27th. Participants have to read books with the keyword “night” in the title. Here’s the books I hope to get to:

Night Film by Marisha Pessl: I’m a bit hesitant to try this one out. I rarely read thrillers but it’s told in a mixed media format which just sounds so cool.

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare: I was planning on reading the short story collections, like The Tales of the Shadowhunter Academy, before I picked up this series, but it’s slow going on the collections and really, I just want to start the new series. 

Empire of Night by Justin Somper: If I love the fourth book of Vampirates as much as I think I will, I know I’ll definitely want to continue in the series. Plus it worked out perfectly for the readathon since “night” was in the title.

What are you reading this month?

kickin' it

Kickin' It: August 2020 Wrap Up

Sunday, September 06, 2020

August was all over the place, with the start of the new semester. I finally ventured out of the house, and even dined inside a restaurant which was the first time since March. I also had a mini break in the beginning of the month so I decided to use it wisely and read some books that have been sitting on my shelves for a long time. Since school has started up again, I know I won’t be reading as much. However, before the month came to the close, I was able to finish a total of 18 books. Here’s what I read in August:

Rural Voices edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter (3.5 stars): This anthology was filled with a diverse cast of #ownvoices narratives that represent the rural experience. It was a magical anthology that really brings the rural experience to life and tackles the many assumptions people harbor about small towns.

The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa (4 stars): The fourth and final book in the original The Iron Fey series was so good. I’m not entirely happy with the ending but overall, the series was so good and I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in Kagawa’s fey world. 

Wild Savage Stars by Kristina Perez (5 stars): I know this Tristan and Isolde retelling would break my heart so I went into it prepared (or as prepared as I could be). It was so heartbreaking and lovely. The writing is absolutely superb. The final book in this series just released in August so I will definitely be continuing in the series.

Nowhere but Here by Katie McGarry (4.5 stars): I went into this knowing that it was a West Side Story-esque plot that centered around two rival motorcycle gangs. It was so fantastic! I’ve been trying to get my hands on the sequels but I fear they may be out of print since I haven’t been able to find them anywhere.

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg (3.5 stars): The premise was somewhere between West World meets Disney World, which I thought sounded amazing! The execution, however, started a bit slow. With science fiction, I was a bit out of my comfort zone but overall, it was a good story.

Broken Throne by Victoria Aveyard (3 stars): To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement, the first two stories in this anthology were repeats from the previous short story collection, and while the book separated the stories with mixed media excerpts, it wasn’t enough to turn it around for me.

Always Never Yours by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka (4 stars): Do I have some new favorite authors? This was such a lovely surprise. I adored this contemporary!

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins (4 stars): I read Prince Charming last year and really enjoyed it. Her Royal Highness follows a modern-day princess forced to dorm with a commoner. Until they both discover they may have feelings for each other. It’s cliché-ridden but endless fun.

Romeo Redeemed by Stacey Jay (3.5 stars): I remembered almost nothing from the first book but decided to dive right into this sequel anyway since it’s been gathering dust on my shelf for years. It was good but beginning to show its age with some problematic issues. There was also a bad case of instant love but I didn’t mind it so much. Overall, it was good read and I’m happy to finally say that I finished this duology.

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett (4 stars): So, camping isn’t really my thing so Starry Eyes seemed to narrate all my fears about camping in the wilderness. However, Bennett brought her undeniable charm and banter-filled writing. This romance was absolutely adorable. I’m hoping to read more of her backlist soon.

The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel (4 stars): Similar to science fiction, historical fiction is really not my jam either. However, when this book first released, I was drawn in by the setting in France and its pretty cover. The writing was good. However, the plot was rather bleak and it successfully made me cry (books that take place during wartime always make me tear up).

Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service by Michael E. Casey and Laura C. Savastinuk (3 stars): I had to read this for class. It was a bit repetitive but, overall, an interesting overview of what participatory library service is. 

Bloodlines by Richelle Mead (5 stars): When I first finished Vampire Academy, I purchased all of the Bloodlines books. The only problem was that, back then (since I read Vampire Academy when they were first releasing), I never really liked Adrian’s character all that much. Bloodlines is Mead’s spin-off series that follows Adrian and Sydney. And, really, I’m mad at myself for not picking this up sooner. I don’t know what I was thinking back then, but I adore Adrian now (Dimitri probably had something to do with it). This was great!

The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead (4.5 stars): Bloodlines was so great, in fact, that I immediately started and finished the sequel, The Golden Lily. In comparison, the climax of this one lacked the level of excitement I felt when reading the first. However, it was still great and I couldn’t wait to start the sequel.

The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead (4 stars): I usually don’t binge series but I was loving the series too much to stop. While this one was great and I love following Sydney’s adventures, I think the direction Mead was taking the series made me pause in my bingeing. I will most definitely be continuing in the series, though.

Fake it Till You Break It by Jenn P. Nguyen (3 stars): Fake dating is one of my favorite tropes (right up there with the only one bed trope). This book was so much fun but I wasn’t entirely convinced on the romance. I mean, they kissed a few times on their fake dates and readers were supposed to believe that based on that kiss and their shared past, that they’re in love now. I didn’t quite buy it. 

Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm (3.5 stars): This was so cheesy but I kind of loved it. It was a bit instant love-y but sometimes you just need an instant love romance in your life. Plus, it was set in Scotland and the wanderlust really got to me.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (3 stars): This was another book I had to read for class but I had already had this one of my tbr for a while so I was excited to start it. To be honest, I don’t think I learned anything new. Most of the things discussed in this book was common sense if you’re an introvert. It kind of read like the book was for extroverts to learn more about introverts. However, I’m happy I read it and I knew Cain has written more on introverts so maybe I’ll check out some of her other work too.

Recommended for You by Laura Silverman (9/1/20): To receive an extra holiday bonus, the bookstore staff must sell the most books. Two workers, Shoshanna and Jake, become rivals as they strive for that bonus. It sounds like it’s filled with some cute romance tropes that I’m sure to love!

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp (9/15/20): I don’t know much about this one but there’s five friends, some sort of game, and a deadly weekend. Ingredients for greatness? I think so.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (9/1/20): The blurb says that it’s “perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying and Knives Out.” I’ve never read One of Us is Lying but Knives Out was one of my favorite movies from last year so I was easily sold. This follows Avery who receives an unexpected fortune from a mysterious millionaire.

How was your August? Did you read any amazing books?

book review

Great Summer Read | The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman

Friday, August 21, 2020

 The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman

Swoon Reads
Publication Date: 7/31/18
Pages: 305
Source: BookExpo 2018

The last thing Elise wants is to start her senior year in a new town. But after her brother’s death in Afghanistan, she and her mother move from San Francisco to a sleepy coastal village. When Elise meets Mati, they quickly discover how much they have in common. Mati is new to town too, visiting the U.S. with his family. Over the course of the summer, their relationship begins to blossom, and what starts out as a friendship becomes so much more. But as Elise and Mati grow closer, her family becomes more and more uncomfortable with their relationship, and their concerns all center on one fact—Mati is Afghan. Beautifully written, utterly compelling, and ultimately hopeful, THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF US asks—how brave can you be when your relationship is questioned by everyone you love?

Elise is forced to move from her perfect apartment in the big city to a small, quaint beach town to help her sister-in-law raise her young child. Even after several years, the family still grieves over the loss of Elise’s brother who was killed in the war. When Elise meets handsome and sweet Mati, it certainly feels like love at first sight. However, Mati is visiting America from Afghanistan and others’ prejudices are set on tearing the pair apart. In The Impossibility of Us, Katy Upperman gives readers the perfect summer read.

Strong Beginning

  • The Impossibility of Us starts off with such a strong beginning that it is hard not to like everything that comes after it. However, as much as the beginning started strong, it was never fully explained why Mati went into the ocean. He simply shrugged it away and I don’t see that as a full answer. Upperman lost an opportunity to flesh Mati out even more right in the first few pages. Readers can infer tons of scenarios which may have been the author’s intention.

Writing Romance

  • Each chapter is either told from Mati or Elise’s perspective. The different point-of-views gives us a look inside each of their minds. Upperman, also, gives Mati’s perspective in verse and Elise’s in prose. This decision is incredibly interesting, making each voice distinct from the other. It takes some getting used to but the Mati chapters in verse are gorgeous and in not so many words, readers will fall in love with him. The steady rhythm of the verse gives an almost melodic tone to Mati which is emphasized through many of his actions.
  • The sexual tension between the two protagonists is so amazing that it's almost tangible. Katy Upperman is able to give us a romance that is as passionate as it is innocent. 
  • A lot of books set near the ocean side seem to always have such amazing descriptions. Upperman gives readers the sense they are really there, playing catch with Elise’s dog on the beach. It is so visual and endearing.

Wonderfully Diverse

  • This diverse novel taught me a few things about Islamic culture I didn't already know. Despite being a light-hearted romance, I still felt this story was an important one to tell. We definitely need more diverse light contemporaries. Upperman is a fantastic storyteller. Despite being a lighthearted romance, there are still some heavy themes the characters deal with like death and cancer. However, these themes aren't primarily at the forefront. The themes help each of the characters develop in different ways which is interesting to see. Most interesting is to see Elise’s family dynamic after her brother is killed in the war. The side characters will win your heart as easily as Elise and Mati does. 
  • As much as I wished Elise’s mother would look past her prejudices eventually, her character arc was the most believable but also a bit sad. Elise’s development is most pronounced at the end. She grows so much since page one that it is incredible to follow along on her journey. 
  • The ending was so miraculously heartwarming. Upperman leaves the fate of the romance up to the last second where others may find it a bit rushed, I found it sweet. It's such an amazing summer read! 
Overall, The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman is a great summer read that will have you falling in love with a fantastic diverse cast, gorgeous writing, and an amazing romance.